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Dennis Richardson shows what can be accomplished in Salem

 

February 7, 2018



We often criticize public officials, particularly at the state and federal levels, whose focus appears to be more on establishing their legacy as social and environmental engineers rather than, say, our state’s and nation’s problems of massive budget deficits and unfunded liabilities, regulatory excess, resource management, just to name a few.

There’s also our increased polarization, particularly in the halls of government, where individual agendas and personas seem too often to outweigh public good.

Thus, it feels a little strange to compliment the performance of … our Secretary of State.

Quick, can you name him?

Those who might not have immediately come up with "Dennis Richardson" are probably not alone. Though we may occasionally give thought to that particular office around election season, let’s face it: Oregon's Secretary of State is generally not high on our radar.

For those of us with a foggy recollection of civics class, this position has importance in that, should the governor be unable to complete his or her term of office, the Secretary of State assumes the position. That’s how Kate Brown became governor.

So why are we bringing all this up? Because Richardson's performance in his one year on the job has been about as productive as any politician we can recall.

n Most recently has been his department’s audit of the Department of Human Services Child Welfare System, released last week, which found that Oregon’s foster care system is   “inconsistent, disorganized and high risk for the children it serves.”

Though that may comes as no surprise to anyone experienced in dealing with the Oregon’s Department of Human Service, the audit put facts and numbers in the blanks left by personal anecdotal experiences we’ve heard over the years.

n Two weeks previous to that announcement, Richardson’s office released another audit warning that Oregon's state and local governments do not meet key standards for being prepared to respond to recurring disasters of wildfires and flooding – or a Cascadia earthquake and tsunami that is expected to have catastrophic consequences throughout the region.

n Prior to that, another audit released in December found that the state Department of Education has failed to help school districts use data to identify and support students most at risk of not graduating on time – particularly those who change school districts during their high school years.

The audit also found that more than 70 percent of pupils who don’t graduate on time come from low-income households. The likelihood of their failure to graduate often becomes evident as early as middle school, yet the education department has neglected addressing middle-school performance and the transition to high school, according to the audit.

n In November, another audit detailed the improper use of Medicaid payments by the Oregon Health Authority.

Let’s face it: Some of this doesn’t come as a surprise. But it is sure refreshing to see someone paying attention, actually fully engaged in what really appears to be the public welfare.

The responsibilities of the Secretary of State include auditing public accounts, administrating public records and serving as chief elections officer. Most of the time, it seems like the little we hear from 225 Capitol St. NE in Salem relates mostly to the latter.

Richardson aggressively gets the word out about what he’s doing. When he was in the Legislature he regularly produced voluminous, fact-filled newsletters about what he saw going on in Salem. A lot of it had to do with budget, and that’s why it’s encouraging to see him bring that “hawk” mentality to not only state finances but to other functions as well.

It hasn't all been smooth sailing. Richardson has come under some criticism.

Oregon Democratic Party leader Jeanne Atkins, who filled in as Secretary of State when Brown moved up to the Governor’s Office, filed an elections complaint against Richardson in December, charging that he broke state election laws by using his office to urge voters to turn down Measure 101. At issue was a statement Richardson made in one of his newsletters, which he still publishes, outlining his activities. 

Last month, he shelved plans for changes to state initiative petition rules aiming to streamline voters' ability to put proposals on the ballot. That came after another challenge, a lawsuit filed by Our Oregon, a union-backed political advocacy group, filed a lawsuit last week challenging the legality of the rule changes.

The legitimacy of these challenges will be determined, but with the energy he’s shown in ripping back the curtain that’s apparently shielded some of these abuses, it’s not surprising to see push-back.

We have spent a lot of space on this page criticizing the hyper-partisan, urban-focused priorities of our leadership in Salem. Whether Richardson is in the right or not, his current activities certainly appear to continue the track record he established as a state legislator.

This transparency, this energy, this apparent genuine interest in correcting flaws is … refreshing.

What would Salem be like if other leaders in the capitol followed Richardson’s example in seeking financially sustainable, practical, ethical solutions to our state’s needs for responsible budgetary solutions, jobs for the economically disadvantaged, some of the lowest educational rates in the nation, use of our natural resources in a way that benefits the whole state – not just urban-based weekend nature enthusiasts, and more.

Could we be so fortunate?

 
 

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